Rachel Tucker Back at 54 Below

Rachel Tucker

 

 

by Grace Treston

 

Rachel Tucker proudly returned to Broadway last weekend, and the Belfast-born star provided her New York audience with an intimate performance at Feinstein’s/54 Below.

Northern Irish Rachel travelled far from home to gift her fans with a spectacularly eclectic show. It’s fair to say her most celebrated performances to date are as Elphaba in Wicked – she held the lead role for the longest consecutive time in its history – but Tucker’s back catalog reaches even further than Oz in this colorful cabaret show.

Fresh off her run as the Baroness in Lempicka, Tucker brought boundless energy to Feinstein’s for her live show – directed by husband Guy Retallack – and her powerful presence seemed almost unreal on the small stage.

Her dedicated crowd delighted in every thankful word and slice of witty banter that Tucker could throw out, and from the loud cheers of many, it was clear the majority have been following her progress since the beginning of her steady career.

Tucker shot to fame over ten years ago because of her belting vocals and inimitable charisma – and she has come a long way since skyrocketing to the fore of the UK and Irish theater scene in 2008.

As a 26-year-old, she took part in the television show I’d Do Anything, in which Andrew Lloyd Webber sought out young talent to play the role of Nancy in his revival of Oliver! on London’s West End. Despite not winning the competition, Tucker climbed the theatrical career ladder with astounding speed.

Paying homage to her modest beginnings on the reality show, Tucker spoke about the importance of that experience, but stood fast on the fact that losing the role did not break her spirit. Rachel even warmly spoke of Samantha Barks, world-famous Éponine of both stage and silver screen, who was Tucker’s opponent in her final sing-off on I’d Do Anything.

Rachel’s combination of humor and humility shone with ferocity during her set list, as she invoked performing legends like Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, and Billy Joel.

Opening with “Piano Man” at Saturday night’s show was fitting for obvious reasons, and Tucker used her confidence to sway seamlessly through the venue, urging us to lift a glass with her.

Taking advantage of her physical comic ability, Tucker later chose to “Pick a Pocket or Two” – and her victims were members of the audience themselves. Despite squirrelling her way in between chairs and tables, bending over into laps, and reaching across bodies, not one note was off-pitch. Tucker’s exceptionally strong vocals did not falter for a moment.

We also had the privilege of hearing music from Lempicka, which Tucker says she hopes will make its way to New York soon. The new musical recently had its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, and it focuses on the conflicted life of artist Tamara de Lempicka. Tucker explained that although she did not have to sing “Woman Is” in the show, it was the song she needed to audition with to nab the role of the Baroness. At this point, Tucker gave her most transcendental performance of the evening.

Throughout the gut-wrenching ballad, not a sound was to be heard in the venue. Due to the relatively young age of the Lempicka musical, for many of us this marked our first time ever hearing “Woman Is.” Rachel’s untethered passion was incredible to witness, as she crafted a beautiful rendition of Carson Kreitzer and Matt Gould’s creation.

Rachel starred alongside Andrew Samonsky in Lempicka – and he joined her onstage at Feinstein’s for the only duet of the night. Together, they sang “You Matter to Me” from Waitress in an enjoyable surprise for the audience.

Closing out the night with a well-received encore appearance, Tucker breezed back onstage to perform “The Wizard and I” from Wicked – in a decision that spurred rapturous applause from the crowd.

For those unfamiliar with Tucker’s trademark quirks as Elphaba, she’s known for peppering the hit songs with well-timed growls, technically perfect riffs and runs, and strong belting. A small venue like 54 Below couldn’t make Tucker shy away – she went all-in for “The Wizard and I” as though singing for a sold-out Gershwin Theatre crowd.

Somehow, Tucker manages to give the same high level of energy each time she sings a musical number, no matter how many times she previously performed it. Rachel Tucker: Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below was no exception. It could be witchcraft – or it could be pure talent.

 

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